By Erick Johnson
When it comes to electing Chicago’s next mayor, voters should look at the candidates’ stance on issues that affect the Black community. However, this election, mudslinging and personality clashes have taken center stage. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and State Comptroller Susana Mendoza have been attacking each other as both struggled to distance themselves from disgraced Alderman Ed Burke.
And with numerous mayoral forums taking place across the city, many voters struggled to see if candidates gave consistent answers on issues that may decide this race for Chicago mayor.
Those issues are on police reforms, housing, gentrifying neighborhoods, segregation, ethics reform and the city’s pension crisis.
They are issues that have emerged in the last several years—particularly on the South and West Sides of Chicago—where longstanding problems have caused nearly 200,000 Blacks to flee the city, making Hispanics the largest minority in Chicago. This is another reason why the Black vote in this mayoral election is critical to the future of people of color in the third largest city in the country.
The most important indicator in determining who will replace incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who decided not to seek a third term because of the Laquan McDonald case, is where each mayoral candidate stands on the issues affecting the Black community.
This reporter has viewed 14 mayoral forums in the past two months either as a spectator or a participant. The most engaging and interesting one occurred in Bronzeville two weeks ago in the basement of an old church.
None of the candidates were present, and there was no boring question-and-answer session where every candidate seems to say the same thing just to get elected. This one involved us—the people—the voters who are often silent and not allowed to ask questions or express their thoughts at mayoral forums. This one did, and it was so good it could have run much longer than two hours. Hardly anyone left before it ended.
It was a unique mayoral forum held on February 11 in a packed room at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Bronzeville. About 60 people engaged in a lively discussion that served to narrow down the list of electable candidates with the hopes of coming to a consensus on one candidate who is best suited to advance the agenda of the Black community.
I served in a role that educated people on the issues. As it turned out, these residents had more issues that needed to be addressed. One woman grew angry during a discussion about expanding the city’s Welcoming Ordinance to protect illegal undocumented immigrants who have pending felonies and warrants.
“Why are we protecting these illegal immigrants when our children are being locked up and killed by police,” she said.
There were concerns that got people talking or yelling. The highlight of the night was the candidates and the issues they support or oppose that many didn’t know about. One by one, the audience talked about each candidate. Then, a vote was taken to keep or remove a candidate from the list.
Many participants were unaware that some candidates were opposed to a community benefits agreement that would protect residents in Woodlawn and South Shore from being displaced should the pending Obama Presidential Center and Library cause rents to increase in their neighborhoods. When they learned this and the candidates’ stance on other issues, they engaged in more discussions before voting again to keep or remove them.
After two hours, the list was narrowed down from 14 candidates to just four. It included Preckwinkle, activist and educator Amara Enyia, State Representative LaShawn Ford and businessman Willie Wilson.
With WVON Radio host Perri Small and activist Kena Collins serving as moderators, the discussion was a simple, but powerful one that had everyone on the edge of their seats. With no mayoral candidates present, participants felt free to express their thoughts and opinions uninhibited.
The result was an enlightening, electrifying and helpful discussion that was so effective, a second “forum” of its kind was scheduled for this Saturday at 3:30 pm at the same location.There is talk about putting former Police Board President Lori Lightfoot back on the list of candidates after the Chicago Sun-Times endorsed her days after our “people forum.”
Organizers of this follow-up forum are excited. Some are beginning to believe that this may be the start of a new movement in political activism in Black Chicago. What’s really interesting is that it’s a spark caused by ordinary people, not prominent Black leaders or activists you see on the five o’clock news.
For me, that meeting renewed my interest in a mayoral race that had been draining as the campaign season dragged on with scandal after scandal.
In the past several weeks, the Crusader interviewed seven mayoral candidates to see where they stand on various issues that affect the Black community. Those candidates included Preckwinkle, Daley, Mendoza, Lightfoot, Wilson and Ford. I listened more closely to their answers to find any consistencies or inconsistencies in answers given at other mayoral forums.
All of them plan on reopening the mental health clinics that Emanuel closed in 2012 to save $3 million. Mendoza is against reopening the clinics, and perhaps for a good reason. She wants better mental health clinics that would have a more closed environment that would protect the identity of walk-in patients.
On the subject of a community benefits agreement with the Obama Presidential Library, all of the candidates are for it, except Daley and Lightfoot. Lighfoot does not have a clear-cut answer of whether she’s for it or against. Daley, who worked for Obama in the White House, said he simply has “faith that Obama will do the right thing” in balancing the interest of the $500-million project with the needs of the residents in the community.
The candidates are split on the issue of the aldermanic prerogative, which allows aldermen to make zoning and development decisions in their wards. Frankly, there aren’t many developments on the South and West Sides to reject. This is more of a concern on the North Side, where developers are always scoping out the next piece of hot real estate for their creation.
One could argue that the aldermanic prerogative may be important as neighborhoods, like Woodlawn, Bronzeville and South Shore continue to show resurgence in new development projects. It’s another issue for another people’s forum.